Quite the World, Isn't It?

Norman Mailer, gone but still relevant

October 10, 2013

Tags: writers

Was there a more pugnacious figure in modern literature than Normal Mailer? And not just because he was a fan, and occasional chronicler of, boxing? Six years after his death, Random House is publishing a collection of his essays this month (pub. date is October 15), called Mind of an Outlaw. Jonathem Lethem (whom I profiled a whole ago here) offers an introduction, and the collection is edited by Phillip Sipiora, editor of the Mailer Review

But the collection is all Mailer, from his first significant essay through to work that came near the end of his life six years ago. I did a Q&A with Sipiora a couple of weeks ago for Esquire.com, which posted this morning. This is from my introduction:
For the better part of 60 years, writer Norman Mailer was at the center of just about every intellectual brawl that found a public spotlight. War (against), feminism (ditto), literature (emphatically for), birth control (oddly against), the sexual revolution — well, with six marriages and nine children, he formed his own battalion.

Mailer was also one of the guiding lights of the "New Journalism," a literature-driven approach to nonfiction that led to one of his most celebrated books, The Armies of the Night in 1968, which won the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. And he was still writing and raging up until his death at age 84 in 2007. He was bombastic and combative, and with a hunger for the limelight and literary success. Even when Mailer was wrong, he was usually interesting — and provocative.
My favorite part of the interview with Sipiora was his response when I asked him whether we have seen the last of public intellectuals – people like Irving Howe, William Buckey Jr., and Mailer – smart, communicative people conversant with a wide range of knowledge about American life, not the one-topic experts who dominate the ublic landscape today:
Well, with the death of Christopher Hitchens, I don't know who is around today. I think one of the problems is that knowledge and culture have become more of a niche industry than they were. In Mailer's days, from the 1950s forward, it was possible to comment intelligently on culture, social issues, politics, sports. But it seems today that we have specialized commentary in which the media bring forth individuals who have significant knowledge in a particular niche. But their wheelhouse knowledge does not transcend the broad spectrum of niches the way that it did for Mailer. I think those days are gone.
It was am interesting interview, so wander on over to Esquire for the full version, which, I should point out, was edited down from a longer, recorded conversation.
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About me

A third-generation journalist, I was born in Scarborough, Maine, and grew up there and in Wellsville, New York, about two hours south of Buffalo. My first newspaper job came at age 16, writing a high school sports column for the Wellsville Patriot, a weekly (defunct), then covering local news part-time for the Wellsville Daily Reporter.

After attending Fredonia State, where I was editor of The Leader newspaper and news director for WCVF campus radio, I worked in succession for the Jamestown Post-Journal, Rochester Times-Union (defunct), The Detroit News and the Los Angeles Times, where I covered presidential and other political campaigns, books, local news and features, including several Sunday magazine pieces.

An active freelancer, my work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Sierra Magazine, Los Angeles magazine, Orange Coast magazine, New York Times Book Review (books in brief), Buffalo News, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), Solidarity (United Auto Workers) and elsewhere. I teach or have taught journalism courses at Chapman University and UC Irvine, and speak occasionally at school and college classes about journalism, politics and writing. I've appeared on panels at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and the Literary Orange festival, moderated panels at the Nieman Conference in Narrative Journalism and the North American Labor History Conference, among others, and been featured on C-SPAN's Book TV.

I'm also a co-founder of The Journalism Shop, a group of journalists (most fellow former Los Angeles Times staffers) available for freelance assignments.

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